228 & POLEVOI
thing strange was happening to the major. This man, no
longer young, who only recently had amused and out-
raged the hospital ward with his jesting cynicism and
scorn for the fair sex, had fallen in love, head over heels
in love like a schoolboy, and, it seemed, hopelessly.
Several times a day he would go to the reception-room
to telephone Klavdia Mikhailovna in Moscow. With every
departing patient he sent her flowers, fruit, chocolate
and written messages. He wrote her long letters and was
happy and joked when he was handed a familiar enve-
But she rejected his advances, gave him no encourage-
ment, was not even sorry for him. She wrote that she
loved, and mourned, another, and in friendly terms
advised the major to give her up, to forget her, not to
go to expense on her account, or waste time on her. It
was this friendly but matter-of-fact tone, so offensive in
love affairs, that upset the major so.
Alexei already lay stretched out under the blanket,
remaining diplomatically quiet, when the major darted
away from the window to Alexei's bed, shook him by the
shoulder and, bending over him, shouted:
"What does she want? What am I, tell me? Chaff in
the field? Am I ugly, old, a leper? Anybody else in her
place ... but what's the use of talking!"
He flung himself into an armchair, grasped his head
with his hands and rocked to and fro so vigorously that
the armchair groaned.
"She's a woman, isn't she? She ought to be at least
curious about me! The she-devil. I love her. If you only
knew. You knew him, that other one.... Tell me, in
what way was he better than me? What did he get her
with? Was he cleverer? Better-looking? What sort of a
hero was he?"
Alexei recalled Commissar Vorobyov, his big, bloated
body, the waxen face against the pillow, the woman
standing like a statue over him in the eternal posture of
feminine grief, and that amazing story about the Red
Army men marching through the desert.
"He was a real man, Major, a Bolshevik. God grant
that we become like him."